Brownwater News, September 2015

Congress pumps new life into inland waterways

Looking back over the first session of the 114th Congress, Michael Toohey, president and CEO of Waterways Council Inc., applauded Capitol Hill for the enthusiastic attention lawmakers gave to the nation’s inland waterways.

For one thing, Toohey said, Congress approved the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014, paving the way for the Army Corps of Engineers and the industry to move forward on several projects that will help modernize the waterway system.

Capitol Hill’s positive action on WRRDA advanced construction on three locks and dams on the Lower Monongahela in Pennsylvania; the Chickamauga Navigation Lock on the Tennessee River near Chattanooga; and on Olmsted Lock and Dam on the Ohio River.

“It is directly the result of WRRDA, which freed up money by changing the cost sharing for Olmsted from 50-50 to 15 percent from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and 85 percent from the General Fund,” Toohey said. More funding will be available from a 9-cent-per-gallon increase in the diesel fuel tax.

“The first session of the 114th Congress was very good to the inland waterway user industry in that Congress provided funding from the resources available to the waterways trust fund,” Toohey said.

More money was provided for operations and maintenance work on the inland waterways while WRRDA called for an increase from last year’s $1.1 billion to $1.25 billion. The appropriations process has been “very supportive” of the policy changes made by WRRDA, Toohey said.

Toohey then touched on the industry’s contention that it takes the Corps “too long to deliver projects, and for many reasons.” Toohey said Congress has imposed “a lot of requirements on the Corps that they have to satisfy before they can move forward with a project and then they (Congress) do not fully fund the project.”

Toohey suggested that the delivery time of a project could be improved if the Corps is first provided with resources to execute at its full capacity.

“One of the problems we have is that OMB (Office of Management and Budget) does not often share the data about what the Corps’ capability is,” Toohey said. “They request less than the Corps’ capability for reasons unrelated to the merits of the project, usually because they want to take that spending authority and use it elsewhere at higher priorities of the administration. This is true of every administration, not just the one that currently is in office. So you know our biggest change would be to have OMB share honestly with us what the Corps’ capability to execute projects really is so that we know how much funding we need to make available.

“This is especially important in the area of O&M. We really do not know what the need is. We know it’s more than they are given annually but we do not know how much more. When you have crumbling locks and lock walls falling into the river, we need to do a much better job of sharing information and therefore putting the priorities where we really need to focus these resources.”

Toohey also noted that many construction projects are slowed by “a lot of environmental reviews, but we would not suggest changing those because they are important.” However, he said, proposed regulations shifting electricity generation away from coal and toward natural gas “will have a dramatic impact on the inland waterways transportation system because we move so much coal currently. As we do fuel shifting because of political priorities, it will move away from the lowest-cost energy generator, which is coal, into higher-cost fuel.”

Toohey was referring to the Clean Power Plan advanced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Aug. 3. The plan is supposed to cut U.S. carbon pollution from the power sector by 870 million tons, or 32 percent below 2005 levels, by 2030. The EPA said that power plants are “the largest drivers of climate change in the United States, accounting for roughly one-third of all carbon pollution emissions, but there were no national limits on carbon pollution until today.”

Jensen develops new LNG barges

Jensen Maritime Consultants, a subsidiary of Crowley Maritime Corp., has announced the development of two new liquefied natural gas (LNG) bunker barge concepts that can be customized to meet a customer’s needs.

The first concept involves outfitting an existing barge with an above-deck LNG tank. Advantages of this design include a fast turnaround and reduced need to invest in specialized assets, the company said in a news release.

The second concept is for a purpose-built new bunker barge. The design features a larger LNG tank that is nestled inside the barge, which also includes the latest safety features and efficiencies.

“Bunker barges offer an innovative solution for the maritime industry, which is currently struggling with the decision over which to develop first — LNG infrastructure or vessels,” the company said.

For more information, contact Amelia Smith at (904) 727-2513.

New grants help train more skilled transit workers

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Aug. 25 announced $9.5 million in grants for 19 projects in 13 states to help train a new generation of skilled workers. The grants are provided through the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Innovative Public Transportation Workforce Development Program.

On Aug. 24, the departments of Transportation, Education and Labor released a report detailing future growth areas or employment “hot spots” in transportation by industry subsectors, occupations, career areas and geographic areas. The report is titled “Strengthening Skills Training and Career Pathways across the Transportation Industry.”

While releasing the report, Foxx said that careers in transportation “can lift Americans into the middle class or help them stay there. We want to fill all these new positions, so industry and government must increase recruitment and help young people get the skills, training and apprenticeships they need to gain entry into these careers.”

“The demand for skilled transit workers will continue to grow as new projects are planned, built and come on line and as ridership continues to expand in cities like Los Angeles and other communities across the country,” said FTA Acting Administrator Therese McMillan.

Foxx announced the grants at the Los Angeles Trade-Technical College.

The report indicates that employers will need to hire and train 4.6 million new workers — 1.2 times the current transportation work force — due to expected growth, retirements and turnover in the transportation industry through 2022, Foxx said. Projections suggest that 417,000 of those positions will be created as a direct result of increased demand on transportation systems.

While the transportation jobs market may appear bright, the report highlights a significant gap in the supply of high-skilled workers. It indicates that projected annual job openings are 68 percent greater than the number of students who are completing related educational programs across selected transportation occupational groups.

“In today’s society, it is important that all of our students are well equipped with the knowledge and skills to compete in a global economy,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Maritime security advisers discuss strategy, fill vacancies

The Coast Guard’s cybersecurity strategy will be among topics to be discussed by the National Maritime Security Advisory Committee at a meeting Sept. 29-30 at the Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C.

Other topics include the increased movement of petrochemical cargoes on inland waterways; the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC); Coast Guard industry training revisions; harmonization of rules with Canada and the Beyond the Border Initiative, and strategy for extremely hazardous cargoes.

Interested parties are invited to apply for membership on the advisory panel. Completed applications should reach the Coast Guard by Oct. 30.

The Coast Guard said it would consider applications for eight positions that will become vacant Dec. 31. Successful applicants will represent interests of port authorities, facilities owners or operators, terminal owners or operators, vessel owners or operators, maritime labor organizations, the academic community, state and local governments, and the maritime industry.

For more information on Coast Guard security strategy and committee membership, contact Ryan Owens at (202) 372-1108.

Mariners’ fitness for duty among topics of meeting

The Merchant Mariner Medical Advisory Committee will meet Sept. 28-29 at the Texas A&M Maritime Academy in Galveston, Texas. The agenda will include presentations on merchant mariner fitness for duty, infectious diseases and mariner occupational health risk analysis.

For more information, contact Lt. Ashley Holm at (202) 372-1128.

Comments sought on boating accident reporting manual

The Coast Guard has invited comments on a draft Recreational Boating Accident Reporting Manual that was developed to replace the Standard Method of Reporting (Boating Accidents), CG-449, which was last published in September 1973.

Comments must be received by Nov. 19. For more information, contact Susan Weber at (202) 372-1103.

By Professional Mariner Staff